After the experience of busting out Onitama in the lobby of my church on a Sunday morning, I began wondering if there was more there worth exploring. It was a great time, engaging me in the communal aspect of church worship I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I talked with some of the volunteers that were milling about – the often unseen folks that make Sunday morning happen for the rest of us. I played games with the kids who I’d previously seen sitting silently on a couch just killing time until they went home. And, as a guy whose education left him seeing most sermons as little more than academic lectures, I got a chance to connect with God with an open bible and dialogue with those who’d come by to see me. How could there not be something here – something outside of normal but yet inside God’s work in these people? So I started the process that got me to what I’ve been calling The Sunday Morning Experiment. After 2 months, I’m only just beginning to see what this could be.
The experiment starts the same way each Sunday. Our church is big enough to have two services, so I arrive right around the time that the sermon has begun for the first. I claim one of the tables we have set up in our lobby, and empty the contents of my bag. My bible, a book (currently God With Us by Glenn Kreider), and a handful of ‘small box’ board and card games from the collection. And then I pray. I ask God what he wants to do that day and who he wants to talk to. The tools are there on the table for quiet devotion, conversation, or gaming. More often than not – all three happen as the day plays out.
I’ve had a lot of varied experiences over the last two months. There have been weeks where I didn’t bust out a single game, while there are some weeks when people are asking me what games I brought from the moment I walk in the door. But without doubt, the highlight of the experiment for me happened just this past Sunday. We normally only do communion on the first Sunday of the month, but in light of the fractured nature of the discourse between folks in light of the recent election, we did a special message about unity in Christ. With it, the leadership decided it was important to share communion together.
After the elements made their way through the sanctuary, one of the ushers came out to the lobby to share with anybody that was out there. I was in the middle of a game of Nevermore with a mixture of junior and senior high guys at the time, but we stopped. While it was hard to keep track of where they were in the service, these guys and I wanted to take time to acknowledge what communion means, we prayed together over the elements and that the Spirit of God would bring about the unity that Christ prayed for us in the garden. We weren’t doing church in the way most folks would think about it, but we were talking about what we prayed God would do in the midst of hurt and confusion, and kept that discussion rolling as we played.
So what would the Sunday Morning Experiment look like in your situation? Would it even work? As the title shows, this is still an experiment. As such, there’s a lot of room for expanding and reshaping it. But there have been some important questions and considerations that have made themselves clear to me over the last two months that can give you an idea if this is right for you.
What is your goal in attempting the experiment?
When it comes to efforts that don’t look like traditional ministries, I try to put myself in the shoes of Moses in Exodus 33. Threatened with the possibility that God would no longer travel with his people, Moses says to God that if his presence stays, he would not leave. And if it goes he would not stay. You have to acknowledge that this is not something to do lightly. Like so much of what we do at InnRoads, you must enter into this with intentionality – specifically, it means intentionally seeking God in this. Because if you’re just skipping out on church to score some game time, it’s going to fail and fail hard.
Are you open to a new kind of church experience?
In the early weeks of the experiment, I was constantly asked “Oh, did you go to the service too?” Even after spending years earning the right to say gaming in and of itself can be a ministry activity, the idea that this would be a part of a Sunday morning worship experience is a foreign concept. This is a ministry to those outside. If you are just poaching people from the larger church experience, then you are missing the point. This is for those who need to feel part of the church community, but for one reason or another don’t feel like they can be in the usual way. Much like nursery workers and other volunteers in more common modern expressions of church give up their worship time to minister to kids and families – are you ready to not do church the way you have to reach out to those lingering on the fringes?
You are part of the body. Not separate from it.
The first lesson I learned came in the form of my friend and pastor telling us to be quiet. It was a quick, simple moment – but it reminded of something deeply profound. This isn’t a replacement for church. It is an expression of church. Yeah, we are playing – but we’re also praying, searching for God, and talking about what he is doing in our lives. However, if we are hooting and shouting, loudly clanging dice across the table, or distracting people from what they are doing because of a great play – we’re no longer part of that body. We’re just a bunch of jerks stepping on the worship of others. Deference to those who around you should be a serious concern.
Consider the practical
Our church building is a refurbished manufacturing plant. As such, it has a distinctly modern floor plan with a large open lobby. If that wasn’t there, I would have been much slower to move forward with the experiment. Likewise we have tables that are practically built for four player small box games, screens and speakers that are sharing what’s happening in the sanctuary, and a multi-service setup that promotes interaction before, after, and between services. All of these things make the experiment viable, and while it would not be necessary for your church environment to look exactly like mine for this to thrive, evaluating these sort of practical elements need to be considered.
Are you up for taking on the Sunday Morning Experiment? Share your experiences and pictures in the comments or on social media. You can find my past images on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter by searching for the hashtag #sundaymorningexperiment